ITHACA, NY — The White House Summit on Working Families — held on June 23 in the nation’s capital — included participation by Stephen Sweet, associate professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at Ithaca College. A nationally known expert on the intersections between work, family and community, Sweet was among a select group of academics, policy experts, business leaders and labor leaders invited to attend the event.
Participants discussed issues facing the entire spectrum of working families, from low-wage workers to corporate executives and from young parents to baby boomers caring for their own aging parents.
“The summit provided an opportunity to increase the visibility of the remarkable challenges that working people in this country face in holding down stable employment while at the same time caring for their children, their aging parents and their family members with special needs,” said Sweet.
Speakers at the event included President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. Sweet says a primary goal of the summit was to build momentum for changing current workplace practices and policies in the U.S. to make them more family friendly.
“The question is whether we should continue to leave families largely to their own devices, as it is now, or whether we can raise this issue to a society-level concern and enact society-level solutions, such as paid family leave, paid sick leave, enhanced affordability for child care and options to take advantage of workplace flexibilities.”
In addition to his teaching and research at Ithaca College, Sweet is a visiting scholar at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. His current work focuses on the reasons why some employers adopt flexible work arrangements and others do not, as well as the ways flexible work arrangements can potentially benefit not only families, but also the employer’s bottom line.
Sweet’s latest book, “The Work-Family Interface,” summarizes the origins of work–family concerns, the diversities of needs and experiences, the impact of tensions on the family front, the consequences of tensions for employers and the different types of policies that can make meaningful differences not only in the lives of employees, but also potentially in job quality and national productivity.